Stowe, Vermont: Bring On the Snow!
A Cross-country Ski Escape to Austria --in Vermont
By Shelley Rotner
Just when winter seems to be getting to most people and thoughts of a sunny southern vacation with tropical drinks by the ocean sounds good, unlike most, I was still looking for a little more winter and snow.
If you’re a passionate cross-country skier that might be your thought too. So, instead of heading south, I planned a trip to Stowe, Vermont where there was a good snow base.
Stowe is a town in northern Vermont in the valley between Mt. Mansfield and other Green Mountain peaks. These mountains create a dramatic natural backdrop.
The area is known for its trails and ski slopes and offers many ways to connect with nature and the landscape.
The Auto Toll Road takes you right to the summit ridge, the road opens for the summer every year at the end of May. There are dense forests and a narrow mountain pass. There are many options to choose from for your ski experience.
Lots to Do
Besides skiing, Stowe has other things to offer. There’s a path that follows the West Branch of the Little River that goes through town with mountain views. There are artisan shops, restaurants and a small museum, The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, that exhibits ski gear and artifacts.
The other area attraction are brewery tours, with over half a dozen microbreweries that offer behind the scene tours and tastings.
I chose the Trapp Family Lodge as my base for a couple of reasons. One was for sentimentality. My daughter was a big fan of Sound of Music many years ago and I was impressed with the history of the lodge and the fact that it is still family owned and family run. It’s set on a mountaintop surrounded now by 25,000 acres.
The von Trapp’s first acquired some land in the 1940’s because it was reminiscent of their homeland, Austria. By the early 1950’s, they opened their doors to guests coming to ski. Back then it was a rustic, 29-room lodge. Over time, the von Trapps bought more and more of the surrounding land.
After a devastating fire in 1980, they rebuilt and kept upgrading their property. The presence of the history remains strong both in the Sound of Music memorabilia decorating the hallways and the daily activities that reflect and incorporate their claim to fame.
Another reason for choosing the lodge was because I liked the idea of skiing right out the door. There’s direct access to 37 miles of groomed trails and 62 miles of backcountry trails that traverse the expansive property. Trails wind through a variety of hardwoods, birch, and evergreens.
The Trapp Lodge created the first commercial cross-country ski resort in the Americas in 1968 and is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The resort’s Nordic Center is a short walk down the road providing maps and equipment if needed and a warming space in a yurt.
I have to say ski conditions turned out to be a little less than optimal and while there was a good base, the conditions were described, as “fast” but to me they were icy. I had been looking forward to skiing out to the rustic Slayton Pasture Cabin for lunch and hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, but conditions prevented that from happening during my stay.
It never warmed up enough to soften the hard-packed trails.
As an alternative, I did a 2-hour snowshoe walk to a Trapp family landmark that actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. The snowshoe paths were more narrow and intimate than the ski trails, and I could meander through softer more pristine snow under a brilliant blue sky on a sunny day.
We walked up a rather short but steep trail to the Stone Chapel in the Woods. The Trapp family sons built the chapel after they returned home after World War ll.
I rang the bell to bring good luck as the tradition tells. My walk continued through various terrains. At one point blue sap lines lead us to a state of the art sugarhouse.
Just across the road from the lodge is the fitness center with a gym, pool, and spa.
After my snowshoe, afternoon ski and swim, I had a lovely and relaxing massage just as the sun was setting turning the sky deep pink.
History of the von Trapp Family
The Lodge offers tours to learn about its history. There are regular showings of the von Trapp family documentary.
There’s also a daily activity sheet with classes and activities ranging from “Good Morning Yoga” to group ski or snowshoe lessons, sleigh rides pulled by Belgian Horses, painting classes, and even ping-pong tournaments.
Then, to top off my day, I took a 2-minute shuttle ride down the road to the Trapp Bierhall and Brewery, where I had a really great dinner.
It opened in 2010 after retrofitting the bakery that was once there. Johannes von Trapp wanted to produce a Lager and brew house that resembled his home in Austria.
The Bavarian brewery produces 2,000 barrels per year of about 12 styles of beer from Lagers, to Pilsners to Weissbier. They distribute throughout the northeast and have won multiple awards promoting the return and evolution of craft-brewed lagers.
The couple near me tried a flight of eight lagers that and went from light gold to deep brown reflecting the different styles. I opted for the Vienna, a beer named for the city that created the style of this amber lager. They describe it as a beer with that is “malt forward with a grassy, crackery hop aroma.” I was happy.
Hanging by the beer tanks is a banner that says, “A little of Austria, a lot of Vermont.” Besides the choice of beers, the restaurant has a wood-fired Parrilla grill that cooks up artisanal food in an authentic tribute to an Austrian Bierhall.
I chose the Chicken Schnitzel with apple kraut, braised red cabbage, arugula, lingonberry vinaigrette topped with a von Trapp farm fried egg. My backup contender was the Bratwurst, Knackwurst, Bauernwurst with beer mustard, sauerkraut mashed potatoes, and braised cabbage.
Dessert also authentic to the style offered Linzer tortes, Sacher torte and apfelstrudel. I went for the strudel. Yum!
Meeting Friends at The Bench
Another night I ventured out for dinner to a restaurant in Stowe called The Bench.
I had dinner at the small cozy bar in the back that was half filled with locals and then travelers like me.
It was like being at a dinner party. There was easy conversation all around, everyone sharing stories about their day and what to do tomorrow.
There were over twenty local beers to choose from with great names like “Zero Gravity Cote de Champlain,” “Upper Pass Moove On Up” and “Fiddlehead Second Fiddle.”
The Bench offered comfort food cooked in a wood-fired oven. I had roasted duck with carrot and parsnips, broccolini, confit with an orange demi glaze.
The dish was delicious and was served in the cast iron pan it was cooked in.
Although short escape and not such optimal conditions, I had a great time experiencing nature with friendly people happy to be enjoying the great outdoors with great rewards at the end of each day. The beauty of cross-skiing mountaintop was the opportunity to have great views which you usually only get when downhill skiing.
Cross-country skiing is a great sport for people of all ages and abilities. It’s a beautiful feeling to move through nature, breathing deeply and enjoying winter.
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Shelley Rotner is the author of more than 50 children’s books, and every day she has another idea for a new one. She is a regular contributor to GoNOMAD and lives in Northampton MA and New York City.